Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are Nationals Tickets Too Expensive?

Earlier this year ads placed by the Washington Nationals declared Nationals Park to be "Washington's Newest Monument." It may be a little premature to declare it a monument to baseball, with Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium and Fenway all having slightly more history in the books. It can, however, be declared a monument to capitalism. Its a money making venture to be sure. With 41,888 seats that range from $325.00 to $5.00, three tiers of luxury suites, 4 full service clubs, Build-a-Bear, several local restaurant chains, and beer, beer, beer. And oh yeah, I bought in. Full disclosure: I own a partial ticket plan. I love baseball, and believe it can work in DC. I disagreed with the all-out public financing plan for the stadium; $611,000,000, give or take $10 million depending on who's supplying the numbers. Despite fear-mongering, we weren't close to ending up like Seattle. The Nationals' owners, the Lerner family, are entertainers first and baseball folks second. They know how to make bank, but are still learning how to plan for success on the field.

That being said, what's the value of a ticket? Is paying for a ticket worth the stretch? Are Nationals tickets too expensive? Last week we sat in Section 109U. Its on the field level in the lower bowl (more than half of the seats are in the lower bowl). Third base side and about 50 rows back. Under an awning, about a 2 minute walk form the main gate and a 20 second walk to Ben's Chili Bowl which is located directly behind the section. The massive scoreboard is clearly visible, as are the mostly empty Diamond and Presidential seats (note the blue patches behind the plate in my photo). The walk up price for a seat in Section 109U is $36.00. Where does that rank us among prices for comparable seats around MLB? Glad you asked. I did some research and came up with this chart. These are walk-up prices for regular-priced games in each Major League Baseball park. Since each park has a different configuration, I chose the seats which most closely matched the location Nationals Park Section 109U.

PNC Park: Pittsburgh Pirates Sec 129 $20.00
Tropicana Field: Tampa Bay Rays Sec 131 $24.00
Chase Field: Arizona Diamondbacks Sec 135 $25.00
Progressive Field: Cleveland Indians Sec 175 $26.00
Oriole Park: Baltimore Orioles Sec 70 $27.00

Dolphin Stadium: Florida Marlins Sec 107 $28.00
Angels Stadium: LA Angels of Anaheim Sec 204 $28.00
Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City Royals Sec 137 $29.00
Metrodome: Minnesota Twins Sec 137 $30.00
McAfee Coliseum: Oakland Athletics Sec 129 $30.00

Rogers Centre: Toronto Blue Jays Sec 130C $30.00
Comerica Park: Detroit Tigers Sec 141 $32.00
Rangers Ballpark: Texas Rangers Sec 112 $33.00
Great American Ballpark: Cincinnati Reds Sec 108 $34.00
At&T Park: San Francisco Giants Sec 132 $35.00

Turner Field: Atlanta Braves Sec 126 $36.00
Nationals Park: Washington Nationals Sec 109U $36.00
Miller Park: Milwaukee Brewers Sec 129 $36.00
U.S. Cellular Field: Chicago White Sox Sec 154 $36.00

Coors Field: Colorado Rockies Sec 147 $38.00

Minute Maid Park: Houston Astros Sec 107 $39.00
Busch Stadium: St Louis Cardinals Sec 167 $39.00
Citizens Bank Park: Philadelphia Phillies Sec 138 $40.00
PETCO Park: San Diego Padres Sec 122U $43.00
Safeco Field: Seattle Mariners Sec 148 $44.00

Wrigley Field: Chicago Cubs Sec 104 $50.00
Shea Stadium: New York Mets Sec 258 $56.00
Dodger Stadium: Los Angeles Dodgers Sec 47 $60.00
Yankee Stadium: New York Yankees Sec 24 $60.00
Fenway Park: Boston Red Sox Sec 163 $90.00

Average price for these seats is $37.80. The Nations are right in the middle of the pack. Not surprisingly, teams in larger markets have higher prices. The most expensive seats also belong to teams whose stadiums have attained iconic status within pop culture. Fenway, Wrigley and Yankee Stadium will survive as enduring images long after most of their players have come and gone. Only time will tell if the Nationals will ever get to that place.

Here's another comparison; payroll. While the Nationals rank 18 out of 30 in this ticket pricing exercise, they rank 26 out of 30 for MLB payroll. Which teams have a cheaper payroll? You guessed it, teams which charge less for tickets than the Nationals.

Where it counts; the record. Last year the Nationals finished 73-89, 21st out of 30 teams and next to last in the division. As of today they are 9-17, the worst team in all of baseball.

We do live in a wealthy market. And while I don't buy the idea that $325 seats are necessary anywhere in a baseball stadium, I know that the competition for the sports and entertainment dollar in DC is intense. Good local reviews continue to roll in and even out of town critics have been generally positive about the stadium. As for Section 109U, it seems to have decent value for the price. A good seat on the field level with an average price in relation to the other MLB ball clubs. No Capitol views, but all of the field is clearly visible and you're shielded from the intense sun and any sprinklings of rain. Easy access to Ben's Chili Bowl: I'll let you decide if that's a blessing or a curse...